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Playing with consequences: 3 (more) players who can earn a roster spot with a good preseason

“on the bubble”

Two years ago, I was one of many voices saying that Jeremy Reaves could earn a roster spot with a good preseason performance. It took him two years to get there, but by the end of last year, Reaves was starting at free safety when injuries forced the coaches to look down the depth chart.

It’s hard to imagine now, but as a rookie, Matt Ioannidis started his NFL career on the Washington practice squad, and he played only 188 snaps that initial season.

The leap from college to the pros is a big one, and some players take time to develop into the role, physically, mentally or emotionally. Undrafted free agents and late round draft picks may not make many headlines in the sports pages, but they form the bulk of every NFL roster. This is the time of year when a young player’s stock can move up or down with the coaches. The next three weeks are when many careers are made or broken, as coaches figure out which players can translate their knowledge and athleticism to on-the-field play.

I’ve watched every press conference that Ron Rivera has had in 2021, and there’s a word he keeps repeating: “consequences”.

Coach Rivera says that, in practice in the Spring and Summer, mistakes have no consequences, so players take risks that they might not otherwise take, they play looser than they might in a real game, and they shrug off mistakes quickly.

By contrast, when actions have consequences, like a missed tackle resulting in a first down or a blown coverage or block resulting in a touchdown or a sack, then it changes the way players approach the game, and it changes how coaches see the mistakes players are making. In June, mistakes are learning opportunities; in August, they identify areas needing urgent attention; by September, they cost the team games.

On Thursday night, the Football Team will take the field against the Patriots — the first time they will be in competition against someone not in a burgundy helmet since the wildcard loss to the Buccaneers in January. Coach Rivera said on Tuesday that he’s not really concerned with winning or losing, but he’s very interested in seeing how players react when there are consequences.

I want to highlight three players that have the opportunity to move from the “interesting because he’s looked good in practice” to “a guy we need to consider for the roster because he looked good in the game” by playing well in preseason, starting with Thursday night’s home contest against New England.

Cornerback Torry McTyer

Aimee Fails

McTyer is certainly not a household name, but then, at the same stage in their careers, guys like Jeremy Reaves and Danny Johnson — both defensive backs who made important contributions to the WFT last season — were equally unheralded.

McTyer spent two seasons with the the Dolphins, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017. In 2018, he saw the field for 347 defensive snaps. Released at the end of that season, he spent the first month of the 2019 on the Chiefs practice squad before being signed to the regular roster of the Bengals. Though he was with the Bengals for most of the ‘19 & ‘20 seasons, moving often between the practice squad and active roster, he only saw the field for 8 defensive snaps in two seasons.

It would have been easy to believe that McTyer had reached the end of his NFL road when the 2020 season ended.

Washington, however, signed him to a futures contract in January, and McTyer has had the media types at training camp sitting up and taking notice.

Ron Rivera admitted that the coaches are intrigued.

Now it’s time for McTyer to demonstrate to coaches that he can make plays when there are consequences. Washington has some solidly entrenched CBs on the roster — Kendall Fuller, William Jackson, Jimmy Moreland, and 3rd-round pick Benjamin St-Juste all feel like roster locks, and I believe Darryl Roberts will be on the 53-man roster as well. That leaves perhaps one spot available, but McTyer will have to outperform some returning Football Teamers like Greg Stroman and Danny Johnson to push them out of the team’s plans. It’s a big task, and it will require Torry McTyer to make a few special plays in the three preseason contests. It won’t be easy, but making an NFL team never is. It feels like ‘make or break’ time for Torry McTyer, who has the chance to earn his way to further opportunity with a good preseason performance, or slide into oblivion without it.

Tight End Temarrick Hemingway

Washington Football Team Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Hemingway has been in the NFL for six seasons, and has notched one NFL reception. He can prove that he was here. But is that enough? And can he achieve more?

“It’s an honor to run with the ones - or even the twos,” he said. “Just being on the field in general is an honor for me, because there was a point in time where I wasn’t on the field at all. So now any opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of it.”

I’m not sure that this kind of humility is the kind of alpha mentality that a player needs to earn his way onto an NFL roster, but reports out of the Washington training camp this offseason have been strong, and on the unofficial depth chart released by the team ahead of Washington’s game this week, the writers listed Hemingway 2nd on the depth chart behind the clear starter, Logan Thomas. That may well have simply been in deference to Hemingway’s 6-year NFL tenure in a position group filled with inexperienced players, but it might indicate more.

Washington needs someone to step up in the tight end group. Logan Thomas just signed a hefty 3-year extension with the team, but the balance of the group is unproven, leaving the door cracked open for Temarrick Hemingway to finally show that he belongs on the field.

Hemingway actually got on the field for Washington last season, but dislocated his wrist in the game against Pittsburgh. In training camp, media members are reporting that Hemingway has shown himself worthy of attention.

Earlier this week, beat reporter JP Finlay listed Hemingway on his ‘stock up’ report, and said that, “At this moment Hemingway looks to have the No. 2 tight end role solidified.”

If Finlay is right, then the depth chart would probably end up being Thomas, Hemingway, and 4th round draft pick John Bates, with developmental basketball-player-turned-tight-end Sammis Reyes a dark horse candidate as a 4th tight end. This result would leave veteran Ricky Seals-Jones out in the cold.

It will be quite a story if Hemingway can secure the backup role on the team after a career in which the 6-foot-5 and 245 lb 28-year-old has been on the field for just 83 offensive snaps, but he is getting praise from camp observers who comment that he has decent speed and hands, adding that his willingness to block is obvious and that he moves well at the line of scrimmage and working down the line on stretch plays.

At a thin position group for Washington, Hemingway has the chance to solidify himself securely on an NFL roster for the first time since entering the league as a 6th round draft pick in 2016.

Wide Receiver & Returner DeAndre Carter

NFL: Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If Carter is to have a chance of making the Washington roster, it will be as a return man, but to justify his roster spot, he will need to prove that he is a capable slot receiver. In essence, he needs to outperform all the competition as a punt returner, he may need to double as a kick returner as well, and he will have to demonstrate that he is a competent backup slot receiver.

I think he has the chance to do all three things.

Washington struggled with punt returns last season, leading the league in muffed punts by a wide margin, with 5. This was supplemented by a catch and fumble by primary punt returner Steven Sims against the Panthers that resulted in a Carolina TD.

Wide Receiver Steven Sims (15) loses a punt that Carolina recovered for a touchdown
Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While Sims showed some flashes of skill as a receiver and return man as a rookie, leading a lot of people (including me) to predict a breakout season for him in 2020, the opposite happened. Steven Sims Jr. struggled as both a returner and a receiver, leaving most fans with the feeling that Washington needs a better option in 2021.

The issue for Carter in his effort to win a spot on the 53-man roster, isn’t his skills as a return man. In three seasons (2018-2020) Carter returned 63 punts at an average of 9.3 yards per return, and 45 kickoffs at an average of 21.8 yards per return. These stats don’t compare to a player like Cordarrelle Patterson, but they are solid numbers, and Carter is a competent return man, which would be a huge improvement from Steven Sims’ league worst 6.7 yards per return average of last season.

Pushing his way onto the roster will probably require at least one big return from Carter during the preseason while he totally avoids any muffs or fumbles. In addition, he will have to demonstrate his ability to play as a slot receiver in the offense, which shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge. Carter has 34 career receptions with an 11.4 yard average, which is pretty respectable for a guy who is primarily on the roster as a return man.

Career stats comparisons for Steven Sims & DeAndre Carter

Yards per reception:

  • Sims: 9.4
  • Carter: 11.4

Catch percentage:

  • Sims: 65.6%
  • Carter: 82.9%

If you’ve never seen film of DeAndre Carter as a receiver, this video is for you:

It appears as if the competition here will be mainly between Carter, Steven Sims and late-round draft pick Dax Milne, each of whom will use the three preseason games to show what they can accomplish as return men and receivers when there are consequences.